Our first elephant is flying – is this a complete no-no or are there times when it has to be done?
If we’re serious about carbon reduction, then flying is a big target. Our Transition Circles have made a commitment to cutting our carbon consumption by 50% of the national average, Norfolk's 11% by 2011 and Britain's 80% by 2050. We can turn down the heating, leave the car in the garage, switch to energy saving lightbulbs – all these things make a difference. But it’s a drop in the ocean compared to flying: it’s mega carbon whichever way you look at it.
Right, those are the facts. I knew all of this and still stubbornly took two return flights on holiday last summer. My argument was that I had worked hard; I deserved those holidays and I couldn’t spare the time to travel overland. And it was so much cheaper to fly than to go by train or road. Of course, I kept quiet about the flights and felt rather guilty, but still would have carried right on…. until a fierce email debate broke out behind the scenes in our Transition community.
All the rationale about simply reducing carbon had no effect on me. I was doing my bit in other ways, such as drastically reducing my London commute from 1000 miles a week to almost nothing, so surely a teeny weeny flight to Istanbul and another to central France was not so very bad. Not like crossing the pond or worse, jetting off to some fragile environment like the Galapagos islands.
It was Chris Hull’s thoughtful comment that stopped me in my tracks:
“For me, the major reason why I have changed the habits I have, albeit modestly, and why the climate change battle is worth fighting, is because the poorest people of the world are already being affected by climate change through no fault of their own. There is now not much doubt, for instance, that the droughts ( and therefore famines) in sub-Saharan Africa are due to the seasonal shift (south) of rainbelt over that part of the globe happening less frequently due to climate change.” Chris recommended George Monbiot's book 'Heat' if I needed more evidence.
I didn’t need any more evidence. I’d crossed my personal Rubicon. No going back. No more flying. Unless… unless…
I can see situations where flying could be justified. Not for my holidays, where the Man in Seat 61 can sort out my train journeys for me to any of the places I want to go to: anywhere in Italy, in particular; Andalusia; Provence; even North Africa. No problem. Not for my friend K, who has more money than sense and recently flew to Scotland for the day to attend a rugby match. Not for most of the Prince of Wales’ jollies. We won’t even mention all those captains of industry with their private jets.
But what if the flight was connected to work? Say, someone had to attend a conference a long way away where their contribution would make a real difference to society? Or your employer simply wouldn’t accept business travel that didn’t involve flying when the rest of the team was travelling that way and you really had to be there?
Or if there was a family emergency, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see loved ones? It's not always so clear-cut to make the decision not to fly. As it happens, it is clear-cut for me at the moment. I can't see a situation for myself when I would ever need to fly again.
But it’s easy for me to set my own rules. I’m self-employed; my children are grown up. It’s not so easy if you have a young family or others to consider.
What do you think? Is flying permanently off, as far as you are concerned, whatever the circumstances, or do you see situations when it could be justified?
Pic: Dumbo the flying elephant © Disney